Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? It is often referred to as the winter blues. It is a type of depression that usually occurs during the fall and winter months as the hours of daylight grow shorter. However, it may occur in the summer months as well. The symptoms are those of depressive episodes, but there is no specific test for the illness.

Recovery is good for those who get treatment. There are lifestyle changes that can help you decrease your symptoms. These can include increasing the amount of time spent outdoors, getting more physical exercise, and maintaining healthy eating habits. Light therapy, talk therapy, and medication are often used treatments for seasonal affective disorder. If not treated, complications can set in. Like in other kinds of depression, there is an increased risk of suicide.

If you can’t get outside, use a light therapy lamp. If life style changes aren’t helping enough, behavioral therapy or an anti-depressant might be what you need. Talk to your therapist or healthcare provider to find the best solution for you to get relief.

by Kathy Frick

Feel Better, Live Better

Choosing the Right Therapist

Counseling or psychotherapy for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or relationships can be a very life changing, if not life saving, process. It is so important to find the best match for your needs. For many, this is a new experience or at least new in this current situation or location.

Making an inquiry for services and reaching out for help requires enormous trust. It involves uncertainty. Although finding a great match for your needs can be overwhelming, you can minimize the uncertainty. It is important to ask questions and express your hopes and expectations beginning with the first contact and throughout the process. Your questions may include queries about the counselor’s experience, specialties, flexibility, and availability of appointment times. We encourage you to ask how privacy and confidentiality are protected.

The following is a checklist of considerations that could help you determine whether a clinic and therapist/counselor is a right fit for you. An excellent clinic such as Pinnacle Counseling is able to have high ratings in most, if not all, categories.

Using the Scale 1-5  (with 1-Poor, 3-Average and  5-Excellent) rate the clinics and counselor/therapist you visit:

1. The convenience of the location of the office.

2. The availability of appointment times.

3. The comfort/atmosphere of the office or facility.

4. The competence and knowledge of the therapist.

5. The quality of care and services.

6. The thoroughness of the initial evaluation and treatment.

7. The amount of help you received.

8. Your degree of improvement from the time of the initial visit.

9. The degree to which you were helped to deal more effectively with you problems.

10. The improvement in how you feel compared to the initial visit.

11. Your overall satisfaction with the treatment.

12. The value of the treatment, considering the cost.

13 The response time from your first contact to the initial appointment.

14. The adequacy of explanation of procedures, fees, treatment, etc.

15. The friendliness/courtesy of your therapist.

16. The attention and respect to privacy you received.

17. The personal interest in you and your problems.

18. The attention given to what you had to say.

19. Your comfort in referring a friend or relative.

20. Your comfort in returning if you needed help again.

Sharon Nelson, LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor- Feel Better, Live Better

Can Stress Be Fatal?


Audrey A. Adams LCSW

We’ve all heard the saying, “stress can kill you.” Is that true? Well, as a matter of fact, YES it is! The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping you alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds. A Health and Safety Executive states around 9.9 million working days are lost each year to stress, depression, or anxiety. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed; we often don’t know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.

Common symptoms of stress are headache, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, stomach upset, excessive worry, and sleep problems. Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Besides these very serious health problems, stress that’s left unchecked can manifest itself in anger, resentment, depression, and anxiety. Stress can interfere with your judgment and cause you to make bad decisions, make you see difficult situations as threatening reducing your enjoyment and making you feel bad, making you feel rejected, unable to laugh, afraid of free time, unable to work, and not willing to process your problems with others. A lot of people turn to drugs and alcohol for immediate relief, but drugs and alcohol quickly turn into more stressors, problems, addictions, and health problems of their own.

In the world we live in today, we not only are concerned with our own personal issues, family problems, employment situations, finances, etc. But, we are bombarded with daily news about extremely scary and violent behavior from thousands of miles away to right in our own backyards. One thing that is in our control is making sure we make time for self-care. Your first thought to hearing that was probably, “I don’t have time,” or “I wish!” But think of this, if you don’t find time to do things for yourself, then who will? No one. As adults it is our job to take care of ourselves the best we can or we may not be around as long as we had hoped.

While most of us would likely prefer to take a cruise, rent a cabin in the woods, or go the beach, it is important to remember when it comes to stress, a little bit really does go a long way. The 10 minutes it takes to drive through Starbucks to buy your $6.00 morning coffee, the 30 minutes spent wandering around the grocery store because you’re not sure what you want, or the extra 15 minutes on the phone talking to someone you don’t even really want to speak with can produce stress. Those precious few minutes add up. Taking small chunks of time for yourself can make a profound difference. You deserve to be as stress free as possible. You have to pick your battles. Is what you are stressing about today going to matter this time next year? Is what you are stressing about today something you can control? Putting yourself first is not selfish. Take a walk, talk to someone you trust, take a bubble bath, go fishing, read a book, get a massage, color, dance, watch a comedy that made you laugh 20 years ago, have a picnic by the creek, fly a kite, leave your phone in the other room, look at old pictures, go barefoot in the back yard, try wood carving… The point is just do something…..but do it for YOU!


Why does the Mind/Body connection really matter?

By Terry Richardson, MSW LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

Feel Better Live Better- Why does the Mind/Body connection really matter?


Worried about being worried sick? Is laughter really the best medicine? Your body may know you’re depressed before you do and doing its best to get your attention. There is growing evidence, supported by research, indicating your mental state really influences your body’s ability to protect and heal itself! In fact, your state of mind could be the best tool you have when defending yourself against illness and maximizing treatment of cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and aging. All of your natural defenses are compromised in response to stress (primarily mental).

Most people have at least heard the term “psychosomatic” which quite literally means “mind/body”. Unfortunately, this term was and is commonly misused when someone is thought to have imagined an illness and can then produce symptoms. In confusion, we generally label and dismiss what could be more accurately described as “hypochondria” and have overlooked the power of the psychosomatic process itself. As Woody Allen said “I’m not a hypochondriac, I’m an alarmist”. Ironically, even this rather negative misunderstanding of psychosomatic also confirms the acceptance of the ability of one’s mind to influence a physical condition. Now, scientific research is validating that possibility: we could use the power of the mind (i.e., thinking) to create optimal conditions for becoming and remaining well.

What makes the mind/body perspective worth reconsidering at this juncture? It is the transition which has been occurring, from the realm of “fuzzy logic”, “magical beliefs” and “spiritual eccentricity”, to the realm of solid measurable data. Consider the placebo and nocebo effect. What are the “placebo effect” and the “nocebo effect”? In the simplest terms, it’s the “sugar pill” effect. It’s the uncanny result that is obtained from a substance, or sometimes a behavior, when none of the “treatment” properties are present to create the desired change, and yet, benefit is derived. The nocebo effect accounts for adopting the “belief” that a substance (or change) won’t work, and it doesn’t! The placebo/nocebo effects are so powerful in fact, that all research conducted must allow for the possibility of these effects in their research data. If science is nothing else, it is the domain of measurability, and its primary mantra is “if it cannot be measured, we cannot know it exists”, therefore, thoughts, emotions, feelings, mind and spirit had been relegated into the arena of unscientific observations. Today however, we live in a world of electron microscopes, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and the previously immeasurable can now be measured, observed and replicated.

Mind/Body interaction had been observed and documented by Hans Selye in his work on stress as early as 1946 and the “General Adaptation Syndrome” became popularly known as the Fight-Flight- Freeze response. Of special note regarding mind/body relevance, the stress experience creating the cascade of measurable physiological responses could be triggered consistently, regardless of the threat being real, imagined or perceived (through a mental interpretation) of danger. The body reacts to stimulus by activating the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Researchers believe that prolonged exposure to stress (real or imagined) results in suppression of the immune system, wear and tear of several body systems, placing the individual at higher risk of dis-ease. This was the advent of the earliest biofeedback strategies.

Pioneers in the field of mind/body research have expanded on Selye’s work. Researchers and practitioners have emerged from a broad array of disciplines, including cellular biology, neuroimmunology, psychotherapy and spirituality, representing the specific focus of their disciplines, be it mind or body. The unifying premise of these disciplines is an acknowledgement of the fallacy or artificial separation of mind/body interaction.

These individuals have united under a variety of identifying umbrella labels usually incorporating the terms “Holistic or Wholistic”, “Mind/Body” or “Complementary Alternative” Medicine.

So, with an acceptance of the inter-relatedness of the mind/body concept and the availability of sophisticated equipment, it has become possible to identify and measure methods to enhance mind/body interaction. The implications for psychotherapy are obvious and substantiate the value of “talk therapy” as a viable treatment alternative for mental and physical health. The mind/body perspective includes approaches of prevention that are proactive, health maintaining, healing, and driven by the individual. Today, rather than viewing the dis-ease “treatment” as a response, directed toward a passive recipient, we can engage the whole person on a mind/body journey toward wellness. Be well!

When the Holidays Aren’t Fun: Getting Through the Holidays with Depression

In theory, the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy, merriment, and togetherness. In reality, as many of us are all too well aware, it can be a time of intense stress. In fact, many global medical institutions issue special guidelines on remaining calm in the midst of logistical nightmares, shopping frustrations, and family meltdowns [1]. Certain jobs – retail, for example-  also become exponentially more stressful during the holiday season [2]. However, some of us suffer from more than passing stresses and frustrations during the holidays. This season can be an especially tough time for those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses; those who are challenged with depression or anxiety disorders may well find themselves overwhelmed as December draws on. This is the shadowy side of the bright, festive delights of Christmas. If you or a loved one struggle with depression or other such problems around Christmas time, here are a few suggestions which may help you to stay strong.

Understand the Problem

There are many reasons why depression and depressive disorders spike at Christmas. Christmas is an emotionally loaded holiday, and the emphasis that we put upon fellowship and togetherness at this time tends to highlight by contrast the situation (real or perceived) of someone who feels unwanted, unloved, alone, or otherwise socially isolated. For those who are surrounded by others, the enforced domesticity (and liberal topping up of glasses) at Christmas can draw out family tensions. Financial stresses put an additional strain on fraying nerves. And then there’s the fact that, for many of us, the holidays happen during a dark and cold season. A lack of sunlight can bring on a naturally-induced depressive state known as Seasonal Affective Disorder [3] which, when combined with the other pressures of the holidays, can make for a profoundly miserable mindset.

If you find yourself getting sad and/or stressed over the Christmas season, take a moment to try and pinpoint the source of the problem. Naming an emotion can, surprisingly, make it easier to control and even to overcome [4]. If you can’t think of a reason why you’re miserable, don’t worry. That simply means that you’ll need to find another way of managing your troubles. It may be that you’re suffering from a biochemical imbalance and could benefit from professional help. With professional help, you should begin to recover your sense of well-being.

Avoid Unnecessary Stress

Avoiding stress is easier said than done. During the holidays, many of us go way out of our way to try and ensure that everything goes smoothly. Many of us may feel that we have to go to these lengths, no matter how stressful it becomes, because the holidays simply would not work in their accustomed manner if we did not. However, it’s well worth taking a deep breath and stepping back from tasks and traditions that bring more stress than joy. Stress-related illnesses spike during Christmas [5], and it’s a peak time for those with anxiety disorders to experience a flare-up of their symptoms [6]. If you’re finding that certain aspects of the holidays are making you unreasonably stressed or unhappy, don’t be afraid to take a step back. Talk to your loved ones about this issue and the way it is making you feel. Hopefully, they’ll be supportive, and help take some of your burden off your shoulders, or assure you that they’d rather you were happy during the holidays than struggling with an overwhelming burden of stress.

Know that You’re Not Alone

It’s quite common for people who are depressed during the holidays to feel tremendously isolated in comparison to the joy and sense of togetherness that is happening all around them. For these people, it may help to know that they are in no way abnormal. A large proportion of us find the holidays tough [7], so you are certainly not out of sync with the world in this instance! Try voicing your frustrations and sadness with others. You may well find that your loved ones have a good deal of sympathy with your position and will share issues of their own in return. This may help you to keep connected with the human reality out there and not sink beneath the weight of the pressure.

Connect with Others

If you feel that you need help in order to defeat the seasonal blues, give us a call and we will discuss options for counseling. You can contact Pinnacle Counseling at (479) 282-2443. If you are spending Christmas at home alone, that is absolutely fine. You should not feel obliged to spend it with anyone else, and you should neither be judged by others nor judge yourself if you are by yourself during the festive season. However, if you truly want to spend time with others but feel you cannot, do your best to rectify the situation. This may involve asking friends or family if they have space at their table. It may involve heading to one of many projects which open their doors to lonely people at Christmas. It may be as simple as heading to social media and sharing some Christmas cheer online. You could even just write down your seasonal thoughts – writing can often have the same kind of effect as human communication can on a brain, and it is an incredibly cathartic activity. Whatever you do, don’t let loneliness and depression defeat you, and remember that we are here to help.


[1] NHS, “Keep calm at Christmas”

[2] Aaron Guerrero, “The Holiday Hustle: How Stressed-Out Retail Workers Find Balance”, U.S. News, Dec 2012

[3] Royal College of Psychiatrists, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)”

[4] Tony Schwartz, “The Importance of Naming Your Emotions”, The New York Times, Apr 2015

[5] Robert A Kloner, “The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon”, American Heart Association, Journal of Circulation, 2004

[6] PsychGuides, “Anxiety Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects”

[7] Lamiat Sabin, “Nearly one in two men feel depressed over Christmas, survey reveals”, The Independent, Dec 2014

Anger & Depression

A gentle but steady current of anger inwardly directed will result in depression over time. Many people experiencing depression are surprised when mental health professionals question them about anger. Are you angry? Where is your anger? How are you angry? Can you express your anger, share it, verbalize it? Sometime is requires a substantial amount of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual spade work to uncover and expose this well of inwardly-directed anger.

Everyone is familiar with anger that explodes. But anger that seethes can be just as dangerous. Particularly when we are the targets of our own quiet rage.

Love yourself enough to seek help with addictions this Valentine's Day

There is no doubt that substance abuse and addiction is difficult during every season of the year. Once the rush of the holiday season, balancing work and holiday time off, and a long few days of travel to see friends and family is over; all that is left is getting back to ‘normal’. January is a month full of change and resolutions, so making time to cope with personal hardships (like addiction and substance abuse) is put at the bottom of your to-do list. As February approaches, the usual hustle of preparing for a magical and romantic Valentine’s Day for you and a significant other, spouse, or partner takes priority. This reveals the real question: is there ever time to get help for myself?

Realizing that you are important enough to get help is the first step on your journey to navigate out of the dark path of addiction and substance abuse to a healthier life. The problems associated with addiction and substance abuse seem to start out slowly and pick up speed in what seems like no time at all. Using and abusing substances affects your life, the life of your friends, family members, children, co-workers, and everyone else you interact with on a daily basis. What began as a coping method for stress or an activity during your downtime quickly becomes a lifestyle and the center point of many more problems. To take charge of the cycle of use and abuse of drugs and alcohol is often the hardest part of the recovery and healing process; and takes courage and support. The process of recovery requires resources to get the help that you need in order to control the substances that have a strong grip on your personal life. Mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment are the vital next steps in the process of your recovery. Overall, wanting to live your life as the healthiest and most well person you can be is reason enough to seek help for addictions for the holiday of celebrating love. Loving yourself enough to get help is a magical and romantic thing that can give you back a healthy fresh start to your relationship with yourse

Erika McCaghren

Am I Depressed? What is Depression?

Many people experiencing depression do not realize that they are depressed. This is unfortunate. Because depression is a treatable condition. In fact, treatment outcomes for depression in many cases are quite good. People who have recovered from depression, with medication, therapy, or a combination of both, describe a transformative experience. Their world seems to change. People often use visual analogies to describe the experience. The world transforms from a place dull, grey, and full of shadows to a place full of light and color, a place of brightness.

Depression is difficult to talk about. People are often ashamed. Shame drives depression, feeds it.

Here’s the criteria used by a doctor, psychologist, or therapist to diagnose depression:

  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness most of the time, most days.
  • Decreased interest in or pleasure from most activities, most days.
  • Significant weight loss or loss of appetite.
  • Feel like sleeping all the time, or unable to sleep when tired.
  • Fatigue, feeling little or no energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or persistent guilt.
  • Inability to concentrate, make decisions, most days.
  • Thoughts of death, suicide.

Mental health experts look for five or more of the above criteria experienced over a two-month period.

Depression is a treatable condition, covered by most forms of health insurance.


The first word of this compound word says it all “psycho”. No one wants to be associated with something that is strange, difficult to handle, and perhaps the worst of all: a scary, new experience. If you were to ask a friend or family member what psychotherapy is, they would most likely say something about paying a lot of money to talk about problems (and that’s putting it nicely). If you were to ask a counselor or therapist, we would describe it as a chance to be heard, without judgment through the ears and eyes of a professional, in the comfort and safety of a confidential session. The talking part might be easy…or hard depending on how you view your problems. If providing a safe place where clients can talk about whatever it is that is troubling them is the job of the counselor, what is your job as a client in psychotherapy? What do you have to know before you even walk through the door? Most first time clients wonder how we expect you to tell everything that you are thinking and feeling after just meeting.

These are common questions that can be answered. A client simply has to make the appointment with a counselor or therapist and come ready for the experience. Okay…that may seem a bit more intimidating than helpful, but it’s the truth. If you are open to the experience of psychotherapy as something completely different and refreshing you are on the road to understanding what it is and how it works. Before you walk through the door, you should know that you are not alone. Every single person you pass on the street has a past, a story, a journey. That road is paved with troubles, hardships, and bumps that throw off your sense of balance as you walk the road. This is where you have to believe that there are trained professionals ready to help and to listen to you. Why would a counselor want to listen to all of the “bumps” along the way in your life? Because we are trained to provide the safe haven for you to explore the inner workings of what is really going on in your life. There is no façade, just a real and honest experience with another person to ensure that you don’t trip on the bumps of life and walk, silent and hurting, through the rest of life.

If you are working through the bumps in your life and decide that the word psychotherapy is not as scary as facing it on your own…that is what we are here for.


Erika McCaghren